The Washington Post quietly corrected a story last week that was touted a legitimate bombshell scoop back in January when it reported that in a Dec. 23 phone call with an investigator in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office (which preceded the much-ballyhooed conversation Trump had with Georgia’s Secretary of State himself) former President Trump made comments that could amount to obstruction.
My colleague Bonchie covered the basics here. But the story of the correction — and where the recording was ultimately found — is so much worse than it appears at first glance and Georgia’s Secretary of State’s Office should explain exactly what happened.
The original story as reported by WaPo is here, along with the correction, reproduced below:
Correction: Two months after publication of this story, the Georgia secretary of state released an audio recording of President Donald Trump’s December phone call with the state’s top elections investigator. The recording revealed that The Post misquoted Trump’s comments on the call, based on information provided by a source. Trump did not tell the investigator to “find the fraud” or say she would be “a national hero” if she did so. Instead, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize ballots in Fulton County, Ga., asserting she would find “dishonesty” there. He also told her that she had “the most important job in the country right now.” A story about the recording can be found here. The headline and text of this story have been corrected to remove quotes misattributed to Trump.
There is definitely a bombshell here, but it’s not in the phone call itself. Rather, it lies in the correction and in who — it appears — made up quotes that were never uttered. And, most interestingly, who let the original story go forward as it was without trying to correct the record.
The Washington Examiner‘s Becket Adams makes an important point about the budding scandal in a piece today, noting that one of the real sins in all this is that many other news outlets apparently “confirmed” the story with the same anonymous source, or other anonymous sources peddling the same bad information.
you all are missing the real story re: WaPo's correction of its Trump/Ga. investigations chief "scoop."
the real scandal is that a bunch of newsrooms claimed at the time they “confirmed” the details of the "scoop" with their own anon sourcing.https://t.co/4Xqxt3mcHk
— tsar becket adams (@BecketAdams) March 15, 2021
That’s incredibly significant, and not just from a media malfeasance perspective (but that’s, of course, part of it). Here’s why: it was reported in January that Georgia State officials didn’t think a recording of the call existed, which is presumably why WaPo took bad quotes from a source they wouldn’t name but who was familiar with the conversation. They wanted the story and didn’t have the recording, so they reported what they were told. Not particularly impressive journalism.
That was readily apparent after the Wall Street Journal got their hands on the recording and published it last week, proving that the anonymous source essentially made up quotes and attributed them to the former president. And where was this recording discovered? In the trash folder on a device belonging to the lead investigator in the Secretary of State’s office, the very person Trump called.
Back in January, “state officials said they did not believe that a recording existed,” the Post reports. “Officials located the recording on a trash folder on Watson’s device while responding to a public records request, according to a person familiar with the situation.”
What that means, of course, is that not only did the conversation exist in a recording, the lead investigator was presumably aware of it and apparently tried to get rid of it (perhaps innocently, in fairness). But worse, she never tried to correct the record as WaPo and many other outlets misreported the details. Which is all bad enough; but when the investigation into whether Trump had engaged in obstruction is factored in, well, it lends credence to something Trump has been claiming for some time: there’s a witch hunt afoot and he’s the target.
It will be interesting to discover if other news outlets used the same anonymous source to “confirm” details of WaPo‘s report, or if others with the same bad information were farming out the same bad story. But no matter what happens on the media side, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office — or at the very least the lead investigator — should explain to the American people why they allowed the story to stand.